It has recently been shown that wavelengths in the near-UV range (UV-A, 320-400 nm) are capable of influencing pineal melatonin content in the hamster. The purpose of this study was to compare the capacities of monochromatic visible and UV radiation for suppressing nocturnal pineal melatonin. Groups of male Syrian hamsters adapted to a 14-h light, 10-h dark cycle (lights on, 1700-0700 h) were exposed to irradiances of 500 or 360 nm light for 5 min during their dark phase. Both wavelengths suppressed pineal melatonin in a dose-related manner. The resultant fluence-response curves were similar in shape, although their corresponding threshold irradiances were markedly different. The calculated ED50 values for 500 and 360 nm light were 0.022 microW/cm2 (1.66 X 10(13) photons/cm2) and 0.306 microW/cm2 (1.66 X 10(14) photons/cm2), respectively. These data show that the induction of a 50% depression of pineal melatonin requires 10 times the number of 360-nm photons compared to 500-nm photons at the level of the cornea. Despite this difference in sensitivity to wavelength, environmental irradiances of UV-A are well above the threshold for melatonin suppression in the hamster. These results thus demonstrate the importance of considering UV-A, in addition to the visible wavelengths, in the regulation of hamster pineal physiology.